Barnsdall and Pawhuska high schools followed almost uncanny parallel path in this year’s Class A football playoffs.
Perhaps it was inevitable their journeys would end the same night — and by giving up the exact same amount of points to their opponents.
In Barnsdall, No. 1 ranked Cashion ended the Panthers’ championship quest, 28-6, on Friday.
Just about 15 miles to the northwest, the host Pawhuska Huskies suffered postseason elimination at the hands of Ringling, 28-12.
Both teams were vying for program history.
Pawhuska, which finished the season 11-2, needed just one win to reach the semifinals for the first time since 2009, and to keep alive its hopes for a first-ever state football crown for the school.
Barnsdall, which finished 9-4, reportedly reached the third round of the playoffs for the first time since 1979 — and was just two triumphs away from advancing to the state final for the first time since 1965.
But, both those dreams crashed hard — in the rain and the cold — in the quarterfinals.
Following are summaries of their results.
The Huskies kept it close early, but were unable to muster the type of second-half offensive breakout that gave them a 34-26 victory a week before over a previously undefeated Stroud team.
“In the end the mistakes were what got us,” second-year Huskie head coach Matt Hennesy said, referring to some dropped balls in the receiving game and a fumble in the red zone.
“We just didn’t make plays when we needed to,” he added.
Pawhuska trailed only 7-6 in the opening minutes, after Huskie quarterback zipped the ball to Hunter Reed for a two-yard touchdown pass on Pawhuska’s second offensive possession. The score remained 7-6 at the half, as the soaked but enthusiastic home crowd kept trying to rally their team.
But, Ringling muscled to a 22-6 lead late in the third period and the weather conditions were less than ideal for a comeback. Ringling hit on a touchdown pass and a two-point conversion with a little over 11 minutes to go in the third quarter to pull out to 15-6, and scored on a 36-yard run with 4:17 to go in the third quarter to make it 22-6.
The Huskies scored their second touchdown of the night on a pass play as the fourth quarter opened, but were unable to muster anything more.
Hennesy chose to look at the experience as another learning opportunity for the up-and-coming Pawhuska program.
“I think you always learn from your mistakes and losses,” he said. “This was the next step in the process. You can’t take any shortcuts. Ringling’s been in the quarterfinals and semifinals many times.”
Beyond that, Pawhuska is just two seasons removed from a dismal 0-10 record in 2017. They were 6-5 a year ago, including a playoff appearance. They increased their year-over-year victory total by five this season.
What the Huskies achieved this year is a tribute to the seniors, Hennesy said.
“They were 0-10 as sophomores and they went 11-2 as seniors. That’s a pretty good turnaround,” he said, adding this group will always be part of the foundation of future Huskies gridiron success.
Hennesy took the Pawhuska job following the 2017 campaign because he believed the right factors were in place for a Huskie renaissance — good players, coaches, administration, parents and community.
“I knew they had all five of those key elements when I took the job,” Hennesy said. “It was a matter of pulling them all together and working in the same direction.”
But, Ringling’s combination of size, power and defensive strength up front proved to be too big an obstacle — considering the Huskie mistakes — at this point in Pawhuska’s progress.
Although Hennesy will say good-bye to a host of talented seniors, he welcomes back many impact players from this year’s squad, including quarterback Bryce Drummond, speedy wideout Mason Gilkey, running back and defensive standout Kevin Davis, receiver and defensive back Dalton Hurd, and linemen Dylan Doyal, Hagen McGuire, Lesharo Wildcat, Jamar Goff, Jack Long, John Reed, and others.
“We’ve got a really good nucleus to build around,” Hennesy said. “I feel like our future bright. We just won’t have as much quality depth next year.”
Hennesy has been 17-7 overall in his first two seasons at Pawhuska.
A squandered early opportunity set an ominous note for the Barnsdall Panthers last Friday on their home field.
On their first offensive series, the Panthers drove the ball deep into Cashion territory but came away empty, Barnsdall head coach Kylee Sweeney noted.
That drive had been set up by a long kickoff return by Michael Marin. Two long runs by Marin and quarterback Joe Cole, and a Cashion penalty, quickly moved the ‘skin to the red zone. Cole hit receiver Heath Moles to reset the chains inside the 15-yard line. But, the drive then stalled.
Cashion, meanwhile, had scored on its first possession — after converting on a fourth-and-short.
But, Barnsdall battled with full heart and remained within striking distance most the game.
“We moved the ball pretty decently, but we often stalled out around midfield,” Sweeney said.
Marin also slipped down on a couple of promising runs.
“I though we did a decent job blocking,” Sweeney said.
Barnsdall finally ended the threat of being shut out when Moles stripped the ball for a fumble recovery and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown, Sweeney said.
The Panther defense came up strong while playing maximum minutes.
Cole surpassed the 150-tackle mark for the season, while linebackers Carson Auschwitz and Josh Weber finished with approximately 60 tackles, Sweeney said.
But, the Panthers didn’t prosper much on the other side of the ball.
“We struggled offensively,” the coach said.
Sweeney will bid goodbye to a large core of senior starters, including Cole, Marin, Moles, Braden Kelley, Cash Perrier and several others.
Some of the standouts set to return for next season include Auschwitz, Weber, Bryce Shores and Trace Wells.
Weber racked up more than 500 yards receiving, while Wells amassed six tackles, including three for loss, and a sack, during Barnsdall’s playoff upset of Commerce.
Sweeney guided Barnsdall to its third winning record during his four years at the helm.
His career record as the Panther head coach is 27-16, and the Panthers have qualified for the playoffs each of those three seasons.
As mentioned, Barnsdall also made an historic playoff run.
But, Barnsdall also eyes a possible twist to its prospects of success the next few years.
Due to a declining student population at the school, Sweeney said the Panthers might move down next season to eight-man football. Sweeney’s numbers of players dropped drastically at the August tryout and for the season roster.